Response # 3

AnnMarie Mark

Professor Alvarez

English 255

14 March 2012

The Undying Struggles: Exploitation and Poverty in Cesar Chavez’s “What is Democracy?”

Support the Cause

   The Mexican migrant laborer typically works a 15 hour day in the severe heat. The migrants often move from state to state in hopes of finding seasonal work to provide for their families. The working conditions along with the rate of pay illustrate the degrading environment subjected to the worker by their American employer. Cesar Chavez, famous for lobbying for justice for the farm worker, established the National Farm Workers Association. The mission of the NFWA mirrors many unions in the goal to fight for the civil rights of workers. Chavez acknowledges and classifies the farm worker with minorities and poor people who also face social struggles. In his 1982 speech entitled “What Is Democracy?” Chavez states:

Participation in democracy—exercising the power to control our own future—is the best hope for a nonviolent solution to the injustices we face as farm workers, minorities, or poor people. It is the only hope our nation has of enduring and surviving in a world where the have-nots increasingly vie for the ascendency against the traditional forces of wealth and influence now concentrated in Western Society (776).

The participation that Chavez points out requires the involvement of people fighting for the cause. Chavez believes that utilizing the democratic process which includes demonstrations, marches, boycotts, and strikes implement a strategy that proposes the idea of non violence and at the same time acts as a staple against the growers. Chavez believes that “participation in democracy—exercising the power to control our own future” brings about opportunity for equality. Democracy gives the poor, minorities and the farm workers a voice to be heard. Chavez emphasizes that democracy “is also the only hope our nation has of enduring and surviving in a world where the have-nots increasingly vie for ascendency against the traditional forces of wealth and influence now concentrated in Western society.” In short, Chavez suggests that the exploited and discriminated can compete against the exploiters and the rich by means of participation in their democratic right which asserts improvement and radical change in the U.S.

The Plagues of Humanity

   Chavez promotes equality and participation which he believes leads to happiness. But exploitation and discrimination counteract the two and act as plagues of humankind. He believes that the U.S employers and the policies of Immigration resist equality and participation mainly because they have the power to do so. The low wages, poverty and miserable working conditions that the farm workers live through creates a mentality of inadequacy of one self. Immigrants migrate to America with the hopes of attaining a better life which ultimately enables them to feed their families. But, unfortunately they also acquire the psychological effects of injustice and discrimination. In his speech “What is Democracy?” he also declares:

For these workers such exploitation and the poverty it brings destroys their spirits, wastes their potential, and blunts their ideals. It confines them to a daily struggle for survival to simply put bread on the table. That daily struggle for survival cheats people of finer things in life: education, religion, and involvement in government and politics. “Primero comer que ser cristiano.” You must eat before you are a Christian, goes an old Mexican saying (776).

The negative and psychological effects that arise from exploitation and poverty obliterates the human soul. The farm workers live in a world where they remain stagnant because their life consists of a constant struggle to keep their heads above water. Chavez states that exploitation and poverty “destroys spirits, wastes their potential, and blunts their ideals.” In other words, it disables them to some extent. They no longer have the spirit or motivation to do anything. Their potential and standards weaken due to endless struggles in their lives. Their dreams and goals no longer exist. The ideas of self improvement including education and religion discontinue because their only focus deals with the ability to “simply put bread on the table”. They do not have time to get involved in government and politics, because they are stunted. He also says that “You must eat before you are a Christian”. This old Mexican saying simply means that working comes before Christianity. In other words, in order to eat a person must prioritize. If Christianity interferes with a person’s livelihood then it will take the back burner.

Chavez directly correlates with the ideas of Marxism. His determination and efforts to bring forth social change for Immigrants as well minorities and the poor points out the division between the poor and the wealthy or in other words the “haves” and the “have nots” in American society.

Works Cited

Chavez, Cesar “What is Democracy?” 1982. The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature.
Eds. Ilan Stavans, Edna Acosta-Belen, Harold Augenbraum, Maria Herrera-Sobek,
Rolando Hinojosa, and Gustavo Perez Firmat. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011. 776. Print.

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